SOUTH Tyneside is the worst blackspot in the North East for homes in danger of repossession, experts warned today.
Every day, three families in the borough are at risk of losing their homes, according to new figures released by housing and homelessness charity Shelter.
South Tyneside tops the list of North-East local authorities for the risk of home repossessions, based on the rate of possession claims on rented and mortgaged properties.
The borough is ranked number one in the region for the rate of possession claims, and 22nd nationally.
Based on Ministry of Justice figures of mortgage and landlord possession claims issued in county courts, between July 1, 2013, and June 30 this year, the number of possession claims in South Tyneside was 1,060 – or one in every 47 rented or mortgaged properties.
A possession claim is the first stage in a process which can result in the loss of a home, pushing some families into a downward spiral of homelessness and misery.
A South Tyneside charity boss also warned that even a modest rise in interest rates could spark a “housing crisis”.
The new figures found that last year alone, more than 10,300 households in the North East were at risk of eviction or repossession – the equivalent of 28 homes a day.
South Tyneside topped the ‘at risk’ local authority list, closely followed by Newcastle and North Tyneside.
However, the alarming statistics came as “no surprise” to Jean Burnside, chief officer of the Key Project, a charity for the young homeless, based in Tyne Dock, South Shields.
Miss Burnside, who heads a charity which provides accommodation, support and advice to local young people aged 16 to 25 who are in danger of homelessness, blamed recent Government welfare reforms for many of the borough’s housing problems – which she warned are getting worse.
She said: “The Key Project works with young people who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“The age of homeless young people is getting younger, with an increase in 16 to 17-year-olds. This is often caused by family pressures.”
“The reasons that our young people are getting into difficulties with rent arrears are because of the welfare reforms, such as the ‘bedroom tax,’ having to pay increased rent, council tax, and also because of the increase in benefit sanctions. People are often left with no money at all.
“Things are definitely getting worse and some of the young people we are working with are likely to lose their tenancies because they have fallen into rent arrears.
“There has been a massive increase in the number of emergency food packs we have given out to young people.
“We gave out a total of 339 packs in 2013. So far in 2014 we have given out 267 packs, and we are only halfway through the year.
“Many people are struggling with mortgage payments.
“It only needs the predicted interest rates to increase by a very small amount and we will have a major housing crisis in this country.”
Shelter is struggling to meet the demand for its services, and is calling for help to keep more people threatened with repossession in their homes.
Since 2011, Shelter has seen the number of people struggling with rent arrears more than double, while those contacting the charity about mortgage arrears rose by nearly a fifth.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Tragically, we are seeing more and more people coming to us for help, people who have been struggling to make ends meet, and then just one change of circumstances has pushed them spiralling towards homelessness.
“We urgently need people’s support so we can help more people in the North East avoid the nightmare of losing their home.”